Palin takes center stage as questions swirl |

Palin takes center stage as questions swirl

Steven R. Hurst
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waves after delivering her speech as Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced her as his Vice Presidential running mate Friday, Aug. 29, 2008 at the Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

ST. PAUL, Minnesota ” John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, breaks her silence at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday with a speech that will be intensely scrutinized after jarring disclosures about her family and brief tenure as the state’s chief executive.

Palin will become the Republican Party’s first female vice presidential nominee when delegates formally name her and McCain the Republican standard-bearers in the historic campaign for the presidency against Democrat Barack Obama, who would be the country’s first black president.

Republicans re-lit the political fires Tuesday night under McCain’s White House bid with a brief but ringing endorsement from George W. Bush ” a speech beamed in from Washington as the Arizona senator looked to detach his candidacy from the unpopular sitting U.S. president.

The absence of the two-term Republican president from his own party’s convention hall Tuesday was highly unusual, as was the presence and advocacy of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket that lost to Bush by a razor-thin margin eight years ago.

But Palin’s address was by far the most anticipated event of the convention after her announcement in a written statement Monday that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant. It also was revealed that an attorney had been hired to represent Palin in an Alaska state ethics investigation.

And a watchdog group released details of extensive funding requests Palin had made to the federal government, behavior that undermines McCain’s claims that she is a force against wasteful government spending.

Those revelations, among others, raised questions about whether Palin’s background had been fully explored before she was picked by McCain. She was already a controversial choice given her lack of any experience on the national stage, especially in matters of national security and foreign affairs.

“Give her a chance to make her first speech, give her a chance to do her first interview,” said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the convention’s keynote speaker.

“Of course it’s going to be high stakes,” Giuliani said in an interview Wednesday with “Good Morning America” on ABC. “The media is ready to pounce on any mistake. … She looks to me like she’s got tremendous confidence, got tremendous ability as a speaker.”

In preparation for her speech, Palin took an early morning tour of the stage at the convention hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, and stood at the lectern where she will address the nation.

Palin walked onto the spare stage at the Xcel Center for a brief run-through and spent about 10 minutes looking across the nearly empty arena. She was accompanied by top McCain officials, including campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace.

The convention returned, mostly, to normal Tuesday after its opening session was cut short as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast. With damage from Gustav relatively light, the political speeches began extolling McCain as a war hero and political maverick, with Bush declaring the veteran lawmaker “ready to lead this nation.”

The president’s eight-minute address marked a significantly diminished role from earlier plans to have the president address the convention Monday night in the prestigious final slot. With polls making it clear Americans wants change, the McCain campaign indicated there was no reason for Bush to make the trip to St. Paul.

By contrast, Lieberman closed out the convention’s second day and was granted far more time than Bush, blending praise for McCain’s advocacy of the 2007 troop increase in Iraq with criticism of Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s opposition to it.

“When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion,” Lieberman said.

A larger-than-life image of Bush speaking from the White House was seen on the convention floor, projected in a way that made it appear as if Bush actually was onstage.

The president was introduced for his remote address by first lady Laura Bush, who told cheering delegates that her husband had kept the country safe in the nearly seven years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Bush told delegates he could not be there in person because he was needed in Washington to oversee relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.

In his remarks, Bush reprised the national security themes that propelled him to re-election in 2004.

“We need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001: That to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain.”

Republicans hoped a strong convention would help McCain offset the boost Obama received from last week’s Democratic convention in Denver. A Gallup Poll tracking survey released Tuesday showed Obama with a 50 percent to 42 percent lead. The race had been almost even before the conventions.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson delivered a particularly sharp defense of the 44-year-old Palin. She is “from a small town, with small town values, but that’s not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family,” he told the delegates

There were indications that Republicans thought they could turn the Palin-related controversy to McCain’s gain. Officials said Levi Johnston, 18-year-old father of the baby Bristol Palin is expecting, had traveled to the convention from his home in Alaska.

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